Magazine article National Defense

Israel's Main Battle Tanks Adapted for Urban Combat, Low-Intensity Conflict

Magazine article National Defense

Israel's Main Battle Tanks Adapted for Urban Combat, Low-Intensity Conflict

Article excerpt

Deadly attacks on light armored vehicles have prompted Israel Defense Forces to increase their use of main battle tanks in patrol roles or other types of low-intensity conflict normally assigned to smaller vehicles. In recent months, the IDF has made several modifications to their main battle tanks, so they can be employed as troop carriers in urban combat.

In early May, 11 soldiers traveling in two M113 light armored infantry carriers died when the vehicles exploded after being hit by rocket-propelled grenades in the Gaza Strip. The IDF subsequently decided that tanks increasingly will be employed to patrol disputed zones such as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

IDF officials plan to modify Merkava main battle tanks so they can be employed en lieu of M113s, even though the tanks are much heavier and difficult to maneuver in urban terrain.

The Merkava increasingly will be deployed in low-intensity conflict, said Col. Yaron Livnat, the IDF technical director for the Merkava program.

"We adapt the tank to operate as an infantry carrier," Livnat told an industry conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

Removing the ammunition from the back of the tank opens up enough space to fit five soldiers, said Livnat. The tank operators can scan and observe from inside the vehicle, with the hatch closed. The IDF made the equipment "easy to operate," said Livnat, because not every crew is made up of professionally trained rankers. Some of the tanks are run by infantry soldiers.

Patrolling hostile urban areas in a tank can be dangerous, Livnat said, because the vehicles cannot maneuver as easily as light armored personnel carriers, and can be threatened by a range of weapons--from rocket-propelled grenades fired from tall buildings to trip wires and Molotov cocktails.

The Muslim casbah is "the most challenging environment" for tanks, said Livnat.

IDF vehicles also have been attacked with shaped charges that target the underbelly of the tank. Livnat said he predicts that U.S. tanks in Iraq will suffer more underbelly strikes as insurgents seek new ways to defeat U. …

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